Part 4 – The conclusion of a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.
"WEST TO LARAMIE”
May 10, 1860
Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Dear Cousin Elizabeth,
How is your family? You should receive the last letter I had written to you from Fort Kearny within a few weeks. But so much has happened that I decided to write another.
Since leaving the Fort, the trip has become even more miserable. The weather remains hot and windy. A pale-colored dust called alkali continues to blow in our faces. Gnats take every opportunity to bite us. And we still have to contend with the constant verbosity of Mr. Hornbottom. The gambler, Mr. McEvers, once asked him to stop talking. Mr. Hornbottom actually managed to do so for one hour.
We have stopped at least two of these home stations where we ate and rested, while the horses were being changed. We have slept at three of these stations since the beginning of our trip. What wretched hives they have turned out to be! The beds barely seemed stable and are infested with bugs. The meals usually consisted of rancid meat (usually bacon) and fried corn dodgers. However, at least one of these home stations did provide satisfactory service. But I do find myself longing for Fort Kearny or anywhere east of Kansas.
At the first home station west of Fort Kearny, a Mr. William Duff joined our stagecoach. A former trapper and wagon train guide, he plans to head for Virginia City and prospect for silver in the Nevada mines. To our surprise, he turned out to be an old friend of Mr. Wright, the shotgun rider. Mr. Duff spent his first day riding with Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright on top. The following day, he switched places with Captain Pearson (thank goodness). He turned out to be a lively companion. Unfortunately, he also possesses an offensive body odor. Practically everyone inside the coach had no choice but to cover their noses with handkerchiefs in order to breath.
Two days following our departure from Kearny, we had encountered a ferocious thunderstorm. Mr. McEvers’ mistress went into hysterics and at one point, opened the door and tried to jump out of the coach. Fortunately, Mr. McEvers and Captain Pearson (who had rejoined us inside) managed to settle her back into her seat. It seems the ”lady” has a fear of thunderstorms dating from an incident during childhood. Before the storm finally subsided, the coach had found itself stuck in a quagmire of mud. We were forced to step outside and endure the last twenty minutes of the storm, while the men attempted to pry the coach loose. One of those Pony Express riders, a skinny young fellow with lanky brown hair and buckskins, stopped to offer his help. He and the other men finally managed to pry the coach loose from the mud after the storm subsided.
We reached another home station for a supper break within a few hours. Horrid as usual. The place – or more accurately, hovel – looked as if it could barely remain erect. The landscape looked flat and desolate. The stationmaster, a morose fellow with missing teeth, spent most of his time grunting orders to his two colored workers. His wife, an overweight slattern, prepared overcooked beans, bacon and greasy corn dodgers. Unfortunately for Mrs. Middleton, she found the meal unsettling and had to rush outside before her food could come back up. Later that evening, I had walked around the station for some fresh air in my own attempt to recover from the meal. One of the colored handymen, a tall fellow in his mid-thirties made lewd advances toward me. The other handyman, the only decent person on that station, attempted to intervene on my behalf. Before this gallant man could do so, I came to my own defense and let the lecherous pest know that I was the wrong woman to fool around with. There is nothing, I believe, like a good kick below the belt to teach a person a valuable lesson.
The next day, we passed the first of rock formations on this trail – Courthouse Rock. I swear Elizabeth, it looked as if it had been constructed by man himself. Mr. Hornbottom claimed that it strongly resembled the old courthouse in St. Louis. Our coach has now stopped near another monument called Chimney Rock. This formation bears a strong resemblance to a large, craggy tower twisting toward the sky. The reason I am able to write this letter is that we have come across a band of Indians traveling from the south. At first sight, Mr. McEvers drew out his revolver in order to shoot. But Mr. Duff stopped this act of folly in time. According to the former trapper, the Indians had given a sign of peace.
There are five of them – three men and two women. Two of the men are tall. All are muscular and gaunt-looking. They wear muslin shirts and buckskin trousers or leggings colorfully decorated with beads. The women, who are attractive, wear doeskin dresses decorated with tassels and a wide ornamental belt. According to Mr. Duff, they belong to the Ogalalla Sioux tribe. All five are on horseback and on their way to Fort Laramie. The coach stopped in order to allow Mr. Duff to converse with the newcomers. He informed us that the Indians have asked to accompany the coach to Laramie. Mr. McEvers, his mistress Lucy and Mr. Hornbottom have all objected. Captain Pearson remained silent and both Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright have given their consent.
In a few minutes, we shall resume our journey. The traveling party now consists of five Ogalalla Sioux Indians and the usual and now nervous passengers. I have no idea how Mrs. Middleton feels about our new companions. Personally, I see no reason for us to be apprehensive. The Sioux seem friendly and there are only five of them. As for the others, it never fails to surprise me how some people can be so easily frightened by the presence of others considered different. Some things never change. Good-bye for now. You shall hear from me, once we reach Fort Laramie.
Your loving cousin,
May 14, 1860
Mrs. Adalaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
This journey has been the most tedious and uncomfortable I have ever experienced. Except for the last day. I hope that I will never have to endure what I had experienced yesterday. All I can say is thank goodness it will be a while before Patricia and I will resume our journey back East.
Four days ago, a small group of Sioux Indians had joined our coach near an earth formation called Chimney Rock to travel with to Laramie. Personally, I found them to be a barbarous and colorful group. After our journey had resumed, we passed an imposing rock formation called Scott’s Bluff. I have never seen anything like this for it resembled a walled city.
Fifty miles later, we came upon another home station. Thankfully, this station – like a previous one we had encountered nearly a week ago – not only served decent meals, but had a stoic man named Fox and his family as competent stationmasters. If only other home stations along the route could be this satisfactory. Mr. Fox warned us to be on the lookout for a band of outlaws operating in the area. I do not believe that any of us had bothered to pay attention to his warning. We were more apprehensive of our red companions.
Around noon, the following day, the three male Indians went ahead to hunt for game and left their two women behind with us. Mr. McEvers began spouting that the men had left to ”fetch their red brethren in order to massacre the lot of us”. Both Mr. Duff and Mr. Wright scoffed at the idea, pointing out that the Sioux had left behind their women. However, the rest of the passengers and I agree with Mr. McEvers – Patricia being the exception. She regarded the rest of us with scorn, but remained silent. The coach ended up being attacked after all. Thirty minutes after the Sioux men left, the very outlaws that Mr. Fox had warned us about, swooped upon the stagecoach from an isolated patch of woods, situated below a low ridge. Within minutes, they had rifles trained on us.
They were nine outlaws. Their leader, a shifty-eyed short man on a bay roan ordered two of his men to grab the Sioux women - "for some fun later", he had remarked. His words made my blood chill thinking of the fate of those poor women. The leader then ordered our men to throw down their weapons. As Mr. Hornbottom started to comply, three shots rang out, killing three of the bandits. The outlaws became confused as more shots followed. Another bandit fell dead. Ahead, the three Sioux men galloped toward us, releasing horrendous war cries. The bandits attempted to escape the red men’s attack, but our men took the opportunity to join in the fray. Both Captain Pearson and Mr. Duff managed to climb out of the coach, while bullets flew in all directions. We women did our best to remain out of the line of fire by crouching in our seats. Rather difficult to accomplish in full skirts One bandit aimed his rifle at Patricia, when Captain Pearson blocked his line of fire and received a bullet in the temple. Both Patricia and myself found ourselves in a state of shock when we realized that the Army officer had given his life to save hers.
Less than eight minutes later, the gun battle finally ceased. One of the bandits managed to escape. Two other bandits fell dead – including the leader. Another two became our prisoners. One prisoner turned out to be the very fellow who had killed Captain Pearson. He was seriously injured. One of the Sioux women had been injured in the shoulder. Mr. Wright and Mr. Duff slung Captain Pearson’s body over a horse and tied the latter behind the coach. We resumed our journey until we came upon another home station. There, Captain Pearson’s killer died. And the good captain’s body was buried.
Patricia and I are still in shock over Captain Pearson’s sacrifice. Perhaps both of us should have realized that he had been the type who would defend anyone he felt it was his duty to do so – despite any bigotry on his part. This reminded me of those brave Sioux Indians who had come to our rescue. How ironic! We had been so concerned with their presence that we did not take heed of Mr. Fox’s warning about the outlaws. And the Sioux turned out to be our rescuers.
It took us eighteen hours upon leaving the last home station to reach Fort Laramie. Both Robert and Penelope were at the stage depot to greet us. The wounded Indian woman went to the infirmary and Mr. Kolp informed the fort’s commander about Captain Pearson’s death and the location of his body. The remaining outlaw was arrested by troopers and sent to the jailhouse. I can only assume that he will swing from a rope within a few days for his part in the attempted robbery and the captain’s death. Some officer offered the Army’s appreciation to the Sioux for their rescue. Yet, he seemed to be rather cool about it – as if he did not want to forget that he considered them his enemies. I also detected this attitude amongst the other military personnel – including Robert, I am sorry to say. Patricia, myself and the other passengers were more appreciative toward our rescuers. They had saved our hides, after all.
Three new passengers boarded the stagecoach, while Patricia, Mr. Hornbottom and I said our good-byes to the remaining travelers. As the coach resumed its journey west, Patricia turned around and remarked that it seemed a shame there was no chance of a railroad being built in time for our trip back east. Both Robert and Penelope merely treated her remark as a joke. I believe Patricia was being serious. I certainly felt the same.
Dearest Addie! The West is such a complex place. Yes, it has its physical beauties. But it so different and stark . . . so incredibly harsh in compare to the East. It is beyond my understanding. Why on earth would anyone want to settle here? There is still good farmland back East. My love to you and Harold and I hope to see you again by early September.
I love you always,